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When 93-year-old former principal Ruth Peters died in 2019, she didn’t have any close relatives to leave her possessions with. She had no kids or siblings. So she left most of her estate — worth an estimated $2 million — to Rev. David W. Bialkowski, the former head of St. John Gualbert Catholic Church in Cheektowaga, New York.

Peters’ will said that Bialkowski would receive $125,000 along with complete control of her estate. Why him? His lawyer said that the two of them were close; Bialkowski helped Peters get her life in order after the death of her husband in 2014, and she was a member of the church’s “Ladies Guild.”

There are just two problems with all of this.

First, a handful of Peters’ (distant) cousins have filed court complaints claiming that Bialkowski took advantage of a woman who was “not of sound mind,” as described by the Buffalo News.

Bialkowski is not qualified to serve as an executor “by reason of dishonesty, improvidence or is otherwise unfit,” attorney Elizabeth A. Ingold said in a court document filed last February.

[Peters’ first cousin Nancy] Kolack, in court papers, said the creation of Peters’ will “was not a free and voluntary act” and her signature “was procured by duress and/or undue influence” on Bialkowski’s behalf.

The second, more disturbing, concern is that Bialkowski has been repeatedly accused of molesting children.

Bialkowski has denied the allegations, but they include inappropriately touching an altar boy’s thigh, sexually abusing and exposing himself to a child whom he was counseling, and being caught in a parked car late at night with a 16-year-old boy… twice. (Bialkowski later said he was teaching the boy how to drive.) He was suspended from the ministry when the allegations first arose, but he was never officially defrocked.

That means this has now gone from a story about a financial dispute to one about whether an elderly woman gave over $2 million to a predator priest upon her death.

Bialkowski’s lawyer says he has always promised to give the bulk of the estate’s proceeds to charity, but that doesn’t include the $125,000 that he’s pocketing along with the potential $59,000 commission he could get for selling her property.

There’s also an open question of whether Peters knew about the allegations against Bialkowski. One distant cousin said Peters never would have named him the inheritor of her estate if she had known about the accusations while one of the Ladies Guild members said Peters was aware of the accusations but didn’t take them seriously.

Making matters more complicated? The cousins are trying to use the allegations against Bialkowski as an argument against him controlling her estate, while his lawyer says the allegations should have no bearing at all on the financial conflict.

If Bialkowski ends up winning the legal battle here, there’s also an argument to be made that the money he has ought to go to his victims.

Kevin Koscielniak, founder of the Buffalo Survivors Group, said survivors of clerical sex abuse have not received a penny in their bankruptcy court case against the diocese.

“They’re not going to be happy about any of this,” Koscielniak said of the Bialkowski dispute. “We just sit here, watching this go on, and it’s demoralizing. We’re frustrated.”

Right now, the legal questions about the will are still up in the air. The ethical questions of what Bialkowski will do with the money if he remains the executor of Peters’ will, however, will take much longer to answer.

(Image via Shutterstock)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.